Spain scrambles tents for refugees of deadly quake

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Army and emergency workers erected tents for thousands of evacuees Thursday after a 5.1-magnitude quake smashed through an historic Spanish city, killing eight people and injuring 130.

Eight people including a child perished when Spain's deadliest quake in more than 50 years rocked the southeastern city of Lorca on Wednesday, the regional government said.

The quake, which flattened some buildings, ripped open many walls and sent chunks of masonry flying into the streets, injured another 130 people, regional emergency services chief Luis Gestoso said.

Stones, bricks, cornices, collapsed terraces and crumpled cars filled the streets and forced huge numbers of the town's 93,000 inhabitants to evacuate their homes.

Some 20,000 buildings including many from the 16th and 17th centuries were damaged in Lorca, which traces its history back more than 2,000 years. Mayor Francisco Jodar said 80 percent of the buildings suffered some damage.

The clocktower of the 17th century San Diego Church tumbled and smashed into pieces, narrowly missing a television reporter as he delivered a report on Spanish public broadcaster TVE. Its bronze bell lay in the street.

"Almost no-one spent slept in their homes last night," the city mayor said, some sheltering in other towns, their cars, in streets, public squares and towns.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez sent his condolences for the relatives of the dead and said the government was acting with maximum speed to confront "this catastrophe".

The government had sent in 800 personnel, half of them military emergency units and troops and the rest police, to help shelter the "very high number of people who have been left without a home."

They were racing to set up more than 370 army tents and a field hospital with doctors, he said. The military emergency units had 140 vehicles to help clear the debris, the prime minister said.

With extensive damage to homes, public buildings, and water pipes, emergency workers were checking which can be repaired and which would have to be demolished, the premier said.

"We will spare no effort for the reconstruction."

The Red Cross said it had six emergency teams who had distributed more than 2,000 beds and 10,500 blankets.

Spain's seismological authorities predicted smaller after-shocks in the next month. Regional authorities said there were no reports of missing people and the death toll was not expected to rise significantly.

"We know we live near a fault line but we never thought this would happen to us," said Pepe Tomas, 56, a male nurse at a local clinic who has lived his whole life in the city, which lies in one of the most active seismic zones of the Iberian peninsula.

"People are afraid. No one here has ever seen anything like this before," he said.

Tomas said he had helped treat hundreds of people Wednesday and Thursday, "mostly for anxiety," after the earthquake struck at 6:47 pm (1647 GMT) on Wednesday at a depth of just 10 kilometres (six miles).

The shock could be felt as far away as the capital Madrid. It hit nearly two hours after a smaller 4.4-magnitude quake.

The Socialist Party's Zapatero and his conservative Popular Party opponent Mariano Rajoy agreed to suspend campaigning for regional elections May 22 because of the disaster.

A total of 350 ambulances transferred 400 patients out of two of the town's hospitals, one of which sustained structural damage, the regional government said.

It was the deadliest earthquake in Spain since April 19, 1956 when a tremor wrecked buildings and killed 11 people in Albolote, a town in the southern Spanish province of Granada.

Ironically, it struck on the same day many residents stayed away from work in the Italian capital Rome fearing a supposed prophecy of a devastating tremor by a self-taught Italian seismologist who died in 1979.

© 2011 AFP

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